Repeatedly, at important junctures of his campaign for president, Republican Mitt Romney has lost the narrative control of a candidacy steered off course by either his own words or those of his supporters.
This time, early in a post-convention campaign in which President Barack Obama already had gained an advantage in critical states, Romney has acknowledged remarks of his own that essentially disconnect him from at least “47 percent” of the American public whom he views as dependent on government and unreachable politically. Remarkably, he has stood by the meaning of comments that he allows were inelegant and “off the cuff.”
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,” Romney told a past fundraising audience, his remarks recorded on a video obtained and reported yesterday by Mother Jones magazine. ”All right — there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent on government, who believe that, that they are victims, who believe that government has the responsibility to care for them,” Romney said then, adding that they “believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, you name it.”
“The president starts off with 48, 49… he starts off with a huge number,” Romney said then. “These are people who pay no income taxes — 47 percent of Americans pay no income taxes. Our message of lower taxes doesn’t connect.”
Last night, addressing reporters at an impromptu session before another fundraiser in California in which his campaign reported raising $4 million, Romney explained that he had spoken “off the cuff” in response to a question. “It’s not elegantly stated,” Romney said outside the fundraising event in Costa Mesa. “Of course I want to help all Americans — all Americans — have a bright and prosperous future.”
Romney explained: Obama’s “approach is attractive to people who are not paying taxes because, frankly, my discussion about lowering taxes isn’t as attractive to them, and therefore I’m not likely to draw them into my campaign, as effectively as those who are in the middle.”
Fielding three questions from reporters, he denied delivering a different message to supporters behind closed doors than he does for the broader electorate: “This is the same message that I give to people… I hope the person who has the video would put out the full material, but it’s a message which I’m going to carry and continue to carry.”
Romney essentially is sticking to his story about the 47 percent — a narrative that will only feed to the one his opponents want to portray of a candidate out of touch with ordinary Americans. The former chief executive of Bain Capital has reported paying under 14 percent in taxes on more than $21 million of annual investment income in one year — and maintains that he has never paid less than 13 percent during 10 years of returns, while refusing to disclose more than last year’s revealed returns or this year’s promised returns.
At the same time, while the Tax Policy Center has found that 46.4 percent of Americans pay no income taxes, nearly two thirds of that group does pay payroll taxes at work . This results in an effective tax rate shared by employees and employers that is higher than the one Romney has disclosed. Under normal times: 6.2 percent for Social Security paid by employee and employer both, and 1.45 percent for Medicare paid by employee and employer both (the 6.2 percent tax on employees has been temporarily cut by 2 percentage points as an economic stimulus.)
This represents the third dangerous detour for a candidate who traveled to Europe earlier this year to showcase his statesman’s credentials, only to offend the British in the run-up to the summer Olympic Games in London by suggesting that their security precautions were questionable. The London mayor rallied a crowd assembled in a park in a chant against the visiting American’s doubts.
Then at the presidential nominating convention in Tampa at the end of August in which Romney hoped to introduce himself to a broader American audience, his campaign allowed film director and actor Clint Eastwood to take the stage in prime-time with an empty chair and deliver an unscripted, off-color dialog with an imaginary Obama — Pew Research polling found that more people found Eastwood to be the highlight of the convention than Romney was.
The newest episode, certain to consume another news cycle today and the debate going forward this week, capped a day in which Romney had traveled to Los Angeles to address a constituency that also appears out of his reach — Latino voters. Polling has shown a two-to-one advantage for Obama among Hispanic voters, yet Romney addressed the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce with a message of inclusion and appreciation for a “nation of immigrants.” Still, the ostensible purpose of the trip to California, which votes solidly Democratic, was revealed in the day’s report from the open fundraiser there — $4 million raised with 1,100 tickets ranging from $1,000 to $50,000 at an event featuring Rep. Mary Bono-Mack, marking $7.8 million raised in Orange County to date.
In this open — not secretly recorded — fundraiser attended by reporters covering his campaign, Romney told his supporters in remarks more elegant and prepared:
“You have a clear choice in this election. The president has a clear point of view that believes government builds it and that we should have a more and more government-centered society that plays a more intrusive role in our lives telling us what kind of health care we can have, how much of our money do we make and of course taking credit for the things we build. My own view is very different. My view is that free people pursuing their dreams, building free enterprises, taking risks, employing one another lifts us as a society, helps us have good jobs. I know what it takes to create that kind of entrepreneurship. Our economy runs on freedom, not on government and I will restore the freedom that makes America strong.”
This was the “inelegant” way of putting it: